Why Do You Need A Phonics Definition Card?

The phonics definition card idea sprung from my utter amazement. I talk with lots of people about reading.  What stuns me is how every person arrives at the discussion with a unique set of words on the topic.  Really!  Reading is so universal.

You would think that there would be a common language to describe reading our common language.  It is just not so.

So here goes: a shot at giving us the common understanding that seems to be missing. 

Phonics is the system of written letters used to represent spoken sounds. 

English uses 26 letters to represent 46 or 48 sounds (depending on who is counting.

For more info on terms you would see in a child's lesson: click what is phonics? 

Here I want to talk about the sea of weird words you see when looking for phonics programs.

Are you looking for intensive phonics or phonics on the side?  Maybe decodable text or in context reading is more your concern.  How do word families strike you?  Yes, there really are such things.

First, if you are looking specifically for phonics you likely mean intensive phonics and assume everyone else does too.

Intensive phonics:  Programs that rely almost soley on sounding out words to read new material.

Intensive phonics majors on a few dozen letter sounds.  These sounds are put together to read words.  Results are characterized by halting sounds gradually pulled together to pronounce a word ie. FFFF   eeeeee   TTTT.  FF . . .EE.  TT.  FEEE... TT.  Feet!  

"What else is there?" you ask.  At least I did.  There is a school of thought that uses phonics as a secondary tool.  If a child cannot remember a word by sight then the letter sounds are a clue.  So knowing that "s" makes the first sound in sun will help a child distinguish "swim" from "wing". From there the word is recalled from a memory list, vice sounded out as SSSS  W  iii  mmmmm.

Most people who think this is a good idea will be searching for whole language programs.  Since both intensive phonics and whole language systems using letter sounds as clues can include the word "phonics"  parents can end up on the wrong pages (literally) while searching on line.

Systematic Phonics: Step by step letter sound instruction.  Very similar to intensive phonics.

Decodable Text or Books:  This is a whole genre of products that use the letters that only represent one sound.  ie. Dan Tom paid type words. 

Since English has more sounds than letters, many letters do double duty.  Decodable texts stick to the few letters that can make only one sound.  

Standard phonics rules have a lot of exceptions.  Since these can be confusing, a whole line of resources has developed around words that are not exceptional. Which brings us to exceptions.

Exceptions, inaccuracies, irregular, unpredictable, non-decodable:  all describe words that do not follow phonics rules.  ie. son in most systems is irregular since the "o" makes the normal "u" sound.

The good news is, this problem is fixed in English Decoder. : )

Exceptions etc. is the most confusing concept in phonics definition.  It seems that every area of the country and every generation has a different term for our words that "don't sound out".

Many words that fall into the exception category become. . .

Sight words:  These are words that are best memorized.  Instead of being sounded out they are recognized on sight.

In the broadest sense, any word that is familiar becomes a sight word.  You no longer sound it out.  In more specific lists, sight words are those that cannot be sounded out. In English Decoder this includes about 12 words. In other programs it ranges into the hundreds.

In still other sight word lists, very common words that could be sounded out are memorized.  The idea is to increase speed this way. 

Can you see why we need a phonics definition card?

Organic Phonics:  No this is not referring to pesticide-free, recycled paper for a reading program : ) This describes teaching phonics with regular books or teachable moments that naturally occur in life. 

Anyone who has enough knowledge to point out the sounds behind a word they are reading to a child, and the patience to build words on the fridge with magnetic letters is already an expert in this method.

One way other for new readers to learn unusual words is through . . .

Word families:  These are lists of words with similar sounds. 

Some word families are simply grouped for practice.  Ie. a whole page of words like hat, man, sad which focus on practicing the "a" sound.  Others separate words that use the same letter but for different sounds. 

ie. baby, lady and shady form a word family. 

reply, try, comply defy make up another.

Orton Gillingham Phonics:  These refer to the letter sounds that were standardized around 1930.  Horton first published the letters and groups of letters paired to the sounds they make without copyright. 

These were updated later and another name was added.  The letters on the front side of most any phonics flashcards will use the work of Orton and Gilliam. There is a specific program that still carries these names.

Spalding Method: This is a phonics method from the phonics "revival" of the 1970's.  Spalding is the name of one of the contributors. 

I personally learned with this method.  Like most Spalding students, I love to read, read well and tend to be a horrible speller.

Visual Cues: Pictures to help a new reader link a sound to a letter(s).

In whole language methods this same term means clues to help a child remember a word.  I think this is a waste of time.  In phonics, visual cues are either a cure all or a curse to the English speaking world. The idea provokes some very strong opinions!

There are some schools of thought that forbid even teaching letter's names to young readers.  The thinking is that this is a visual clue that distracts the young mind from instant sound recognition. 

Other people warn that a life time of hating reading awaits a child who is instructed without the aid of pictures.  (Bitterness is sure to set in, as the theory goes)

I have seen exceptional readers from both picture-full and absolute visual clue free programs. I normally use them.  If I had a distractable child I might leave them out.

Hope that helps you wrap up phonics definition(s).  There are lots of reading program choices out there.  A better decision is certainly one that is better informed.


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Phonics Definition Card

Your Quick Reference Guide For Researching Phonics Programs

Intensive phonics: Programs that rely almost solely on sounding out words to read new material.

Systematic Phonics: Step by step letter sound instruction. Very similar to intensive phonics.

Organic Phonics: No this is not referring to pesticide-free, recycled paper for a reading program : ) This describes teaching phonics with regular books or teachable moments that naturally occur in life.

Decodable Text or Books: This is a whole genre of products that use the letters that only represent one sound. ie. Dan Tom paid type words.

Exceptions, inaccuracies, irregular, unpredictable, non-decodable: all describe words that do not follow phonics rules.

Sight words:These are words that are best memorized. Instead of being sounded out. They are recognized on sight.

Word families. These are lists of words with similar sounds.

Orton Gillingham Phonics: These refer to the letter sounds that were standardized around 1930.

Spalding Method: This is a phonics method from the phonics "revival" of the 1970's. Spalding is the name of one of the contributors.

Visual Cues: Pictures to help a new reader link a sound to a letter(s).